Four Ways to Deal with a Difficult Employee

Four Ways to Deal with a Difficult EmployeeWe’ve all had times when we’ve had someone on our team who was really difficult to work with. It may have been a style difference. It may have been not seeing eye to eye about how the work should be done. It may have been that he resented you as the new leader of the group. Whatever the reason for the difficulty, the individual made our work day less pleasant and our job as a manager more taxing.

I recently had a client who had several difficult team members. They were long-term members of the team and she was the most recent in a long-line of managers who were only there a short time. In my   opinion, she received some really bad advice about how to handle them. “Ignore them,” the advice-givers said. “Don’t meet with them.” “Communicate through email”. “Focus only on the       rest of the team.” Wrong. All of these tactics did nothing but stoke the flames.

Sometimes, difficult employees can be a bit like the bully on the playground. They look for signs of weakness — like ignoring them or cutting off communication — as signs of managerial weakness. Instead of pulling back, I would suggest engaging more.

    • Diffuse the situation by talking with the person about him or herself. What strengths does he or she have? What areas does the individual want to develop? What does she enjoy about their work? What does he dislike about it? What’s important to her? Is this a job or part of a career? Discuss how you may be able to leverage the person’s strengths or develop areas of weakness. Think about whether things in the job or work environment can be changed.
      Sometimes the difficult employee has never had someone ask those questions.
    • Set clear expectations for behavior and results. Share your vision for how the group will be operating. Let him know you will be holding everyone accountable to those standards and they will be a regular part of your conversations.
    • Value the individual’s experience and knowledge. She may very well have several performance issues but she also probably has valuable knowledge or experience that can be a benefit to the group. Ask for insights and ideas about changes you want to make or how to introduce an idea.
    • Meet regularly. Focus on the work that is being done, issues you can help resolve and moving towards that vision. Hold the individual accountable. Provide specific feedback — both positive and developmental. Cut off whining. If the person begins to complain, move the conversation towards finding solutions.

Create a Sustainable Leadership Pipeline: 7 Core Principles

Leadership Sustainability

Leadership Sustainability

Sustainability is a word that is heard often these days, usually in regards to the environment or development or cultures. As leaders, part of our mission is to create sustainability within our organizations. The talent of our future leaders is critical to our future success. The question is, “how do I create a sustainable pipeline of leaders and manage talent in an ever-changing business and economic environment?”

The business case for top-tier leadership quality is solid. A Corporate Leadership Council 2003 Succession Management Survey showed that top tier leadership organizations are much more likely to outperform their peers in the marketplace, which translates into substantial financial gains. Market capitalization relative to peers was $384 million higher for top-tier leadership organizations compared with a $232 million lower for bottom-tier leadership organizations.

Creating a sustainable pipeline of top-tier leadership needs an integrated, systemic approach to talent management. Current leaders in the organization need to be accountable for creating a talent management culture. Keeping your eye on the talent will allow you to survive, and even thrive, during times of change and come out stronger on the other side.

To create sustainable leadership pipelines, seven core principles make the difference.

The 7 Core Principles

Core Principle #1: Recognize talent management is a core business process with impact on overall business and financial success for the enterprise. Actively engage leadership throughout the organization on an ongoing basis to assure a nimble, functioning and robust process is in place. Create accountabilities for leaders, just as they are for the financial and operational success of the organization.

Core Principle #2: It starts with the business strategy and talent pipelines are developed to support the strategy. Base the pipelines on where the business is currently and also prepare for future scenarios. As Marshall Goldsmith said, “what got you here, won’t get you there.” Leadership needs will vary based on the strategic needs of the organization. The necessary leadership qualities, the identification, development and review of key talent should be linked to the strategy to assure the bench strength meets the organization needs.

Identify linchpin roles to assure you are developing leadership talent for those roles that have significant impact on the organization’s ability to achieve short and long-term results. Look at the drivers of you business – is it sales? Research and development? Manufacturing? How are you creating a sustained talent pipeline in those parts of the business?

Core Principle #3: Measure it and know if it’s making a difference. Sustainability is created by knowing what will create success now and in the future and focusing resources on those areas. Put measures in place to reflect the goals of talent management and the effectiveness of leadership development. As was stated in principle #1, make it a key accountability for the executive team.

Core Principle #4: Identify, develop and talk about leadership talent throughout the organization. The leadership talent conversation should be ongoing among your senior leadership teams. Until they take root in the culture, overt processes should be put in place to cause these conversations to occur. These topics need to be agenda items or the topics of meetings in their entirety.

Create communication mechanisms to ensure a resilient information-sharing process. Intranet- based tools with the ability to allow varying levels of access to critical information are vital. They allow for the dynamic management of the information.

Core Principle #5: The process clearly differentiates leadership talent. All high performers are not high potential. However, high potentials are high performers. Sustainable talent management systems identify the difference.

High potential performers have the capability to continue to take on larger, more complex levels of responsibility and often do it quickly. High potential employees are often voracious learners. They take on new tasks and are able to master them quickly. What they most often need is the ability to gain wisdom; the ability to integrate what they have learned and to apply it in varied settings.

Core Principle #6: Address gaps between strategic needs and current leadership capabilities through focused internal development or recruitment of external resources. In sustainable talent management processes, development comes from a variety of sources – coaching, programs, experiences, new assignments within the organization, mentoring, etc. With the application of each type of development there is clarity about what the individual is supposed to be developing from each experience or assignment. Measure the progress. Frequent conversations about the development experience provide feedback to the organization about the potential leadership talent and to the individual.

To drive integration of talent management into the culture, integrate it with critical processes like selection, performance management, rewards and compensation. At the individual level, let people know where they stand (e.g., A, B, C talent) and the implications. These components can be facilitated through Human Resources, Leadership Development, or consultants. They need to be owned by the executive team and leaders/managers across the organization.

Core Principle #7: Talent and the needs for talent are re-evaluated regularly. Your business changes. So does the talent. Sustainable systems identify and proactively address the dynamics of change and the impact on talent needs.

First, Find Your Successor

Richard BransonI was watching TV this weekend when I came across an interview with Sir Richard Branson. As the interview was coming to a close, the interviewer asked him his advice for a new CEO. He said, “Find your successor and teach that person everything you know. That way you can focus on the bigger things.” The interviewer replied that finding and developing your successor is intimidating for some leaders. His reply? They are weak leaders.

Real leaders understand the need for and benefit of identifying a successor. It doesn’t matter if you are the CEO or a first-time manager, identifying and developing someone who can do your job should be a priority. Early in my career, I was a couple of months into a new job when my boss told me to think about who could take over for me in 18 months. I was floored, feeling like I didn’t even know what my job was yet. And, I didn’t identify and develop a successor. Shame on me. It interfered with my ability to move to another role, jeopardized the department’s talent pipeline and kept someone from being developed. Since then, I’ve prioritized developing those around me, informally and formally.

When we surround ourselves with great talent and help that talent become as successful as we are, we demonstrate one of the keys to leadership success — our ability to bring others along on the journey.

He Seemed Such a Perfect Fit in the Interview


“…But, he seemed like such a great candidate in the interview…”




Anyone who has hired people over any length of time has had this experience. The person seemed so perfect in the interview only to be far less than perfect once he was on the job.

Truthfully, if we conducted any other part of our business the way we approach hiring and interviewing, we would be fired. I know very few people who approach interviewing with the structure and focus it deserves. We start with a list of job duties and solicit resumes for people we think may be able to perform those duties. We then schedule interviews. We may include some other people to also interview the candidate. We often choose those people because they are who is available that day. Some people may spend a few minutes before the interview thinking about what questions they will ask the candidate others will wing it. We talk with the candidate for 30 minutes, maybe 45. After the interview, the feedback tends to be a quick hallway conversation about our general reactions to the candidate. We don’t really spend any time talking about what we are looking for in the candidate. We don’t talk about what kind of experiences we think they need to be successful. We don’t talk about the factors that really make someone successful in the job but aren’t in the job description — things like collaboration or teamwork or being a self-starter or one of a hundred other possible things that really make someone successful.

If you’re going to be hiring this year, turn the usual process on its head and actually approach it like a critical business process.

    • Plan for the interview. Identify what will make someone successful in the role. This should lead to a list of characteristics, competencies or experiences that set a successful candidate apart. When combined with skills and educational requirements, these become the criteria you’ll use to make the decision.
    • Involve people in the interview who will interact with this person in a meaningful way once he or she is on the job. They should know something about the role and what people do in that role.
    • Prep the people who will be interview the candidate with what types of things you want them to look for in the interview. Tell them what the most important characteristics, competencies or experiences are that you want to see in the person you will hire.
    • Ask questions in the interview that give insights into how the candidate has approached a similar situation to what he or she will face on the job. What was the situation? What did he do in that situation? What was the result or key learning from what he did? Ask for examples and then ask for a few more examples. You’ll find out a lot more about what the person really brings to the job than with questions like “Tell me about your last job.” and “Do you prefer to work with people?”
    • Go back to the criteria you set before the interview. Meet with everyone who talked with the candidate and talk about how the candidates stack up against the criteria.

Do this for every interview you conduct.  It will lead to fewer situations where you’ll find yourself saying, “But she was so good in the interview…”